Head of Zeus | 2018 (1 June) | 720p | Review copy | Buy the book
An ebola-like virus has hit Kenya, its virulence both surprising and shocking. At the same time many, many thousands of people across the globe are coming down with flu. Dr Peyton Shaw, the leading epidemiologist and first-responder of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is about to be woken up with the call she lives to dread – news of a pandemic. As Peyton flies to Kenya, Desmond Hughes is waking up in a hotel room in Berlin with his memory gone. He has no idea who he is or what he’s doing there but with him is a dead man. There is only one clue and it leads him to Peyton Shaw. But with each clue he discovers, a memory is unlocked, and something truly terrifying is slowly revealed. And time is ticking away.
As soon as Pandemic arrived, I couldn’t wait to read it. I love disaster novels and movies and this book ticks all of the right boxes. It’s also a substantial book of about 700 pages but there’s more than enough drama, action, peril and adrenaline packed into this novel to make it unputdownable and a very fast read. Also, much of its complex story feels potentially real and believable. I really enjoyed A.G. Riddle’s earlier book The Atlantis Gene but was unconvinced by its followups, which stretched my powers to believe. But there is none of that with Pandemic. We’re rooted in the real world, albeit one that thrills, and the result is a novel as terrifying as it is exhilarating.
We move between quite a lot of characters, each of whom plays a crucial role in the way that this pandemic develops or is fought, and we’re taken across the world. It can be a little confusing keeping up at the beginning but things soon settle down as the plot takes off and the countdown of the dead grows and grows and grows. I love how we’re given so many stories to follow. It’s a cinematic approach and it works really well. We meet doctors, patients, scientists, many of whom are heroic and some who are the opposite, as well as ordinary men, women and children trying to survive and save those they love.
The picture we’re given of what happens when a pandemic and an international emergency take a grip is utterly compelling. It’s so frightening, particularly in the chapters that take place in Atlanta as the city tries to take hold of an impossible situation. These scenes contrast with the more usual thriller themes of goodies versus baddies and they worked well as a contrast. I enjoyed both aspects. Those pages, they kept on turning, as fast as I could make them.
One element of Pandemic that I especially enjoyed were the sections in which Desmond remembered and looked back on his life. This is fine storytelling and Desmond really shines as a character as a result, more than anyone else in the book. My only serious issue with the novel is that there are too many coincidences.
I was worried that because this is the first book in The Extinction Files series (of two books?), it might end with a cliffhanger, not something I enjoy at the end of a 700-page book. But it did not! This novel is self-contained while presenting the origins of another mystery to be explored in the next novel, Genome. I’m so glad that we only have to wait until October for this as I cannot wait!
The Atlantis Gene